Today we enjoy basic conversations with our smart phone, desktop PC, games console, TV and soon, our car; but voice recognition, many believe, should not be viewed as an endgame technology. Although directing electronics with voice and gestures may be considered state-of-the-art today, we will soon be controlling entertainment and communications equipment not by talking or waving; but just by thinking!
Forget Siri, if future-thinking researchers have their way, your brain could soon be chatting away on the phone. A new implant developed by UC-Berkeley neuroscientist, Robert Knight, could create a game-changing relationship between you and your machines. You may soon be able to transmit thoughts via the Internet using a translator chip implanted in the brain that converts thoughts into words.
Enter University of Reading'sDr. Kevin Warwick, whose cutting-edge neural implant research has enabled him to control machines and communicate with others using only thoughts and physical motions.
In 1998, Warwick implanted a transmitter in his arm enabling him to control doors and other devices. Then in 2002, this bold scientist, who had earned the nickname "Captain Cyborg" from his colleagues, implanted electrodes directly into his nervous system. This allowed a remote robot arm to mimic the actions of Warwick's own arm and enabled him to control a wheelchair with just his thoughts.
Next, Warwick implanted a chip in his wife Irena's arm, linking their brains together through the Internet. "When she moved her hand three times," he said, "I felt three pulses and my brain recognized that my wife was communicating." This was the world's first electronic brain-to-brain communication.
The goal of much of this research is to help patients rendered voiceless by strokes or other ailments speak their thoughts directly, much like Stephen Hawking, the famed physicist who speaks only with the aid of a computer synthesizer. Watch this TED Talk demonstration of a headset that reads brainwaves.
Most brain implants consist of a tiny chip with electrodes, combining math and neuroscience. At their heart is an algorithm that deciphers the neural code that one layer of the brain sends to another.
What might this revolutionary neuroscience lead too? Technologies from the movie Avatar, where people remotely piloted genetically-engineered aliens, could become reality in the decades ahead.
Wake Forest's Sam Deadwyler and his team recently implanted microchips in monkeys to recapture lost decision-making processes, demonstrating that a neural prosthetic can recover cognitive function in the brain. The results suggest that neural implants could one day be used in humans to help decide whether to grab a cup of coffee, or remember where you left your keys. Read A Brain Implant that Thinks.
More than 80,000 Parkinson's sufferers have found relief using a deep brain stimulator, and brain electronics were implanted into Alzheimer's patients this year in hopes to slow down this insidious killer.
In addition, Henry Markram, leader of the International Swiss Blue Brain Project believes that by early 2020s, his organization will create an artificial brain with human-like intelligence and consciousness.
Future thought talking might work like this: armed with innovative electronic implants that convert brain signals to recognizable speech, you simply think of whom you wish to communicate with, and with their approval, you're connected. In addition to reading each other's thoughts, you could also gaze through the other person's eyes; and even experience their feelings of joy, excitement, sadness, or depression.
As more of the brain's mysteries are understood, experts predict that brain implants will play a more important role in humanity's future. G.tec Medical Engineering offers a variety of pocket-sized wireless brain-reading systems, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists have created nanotube bio-transistors that will one day allow wiring prosthetic devices directly into the body's nervous system.
At a recent interview, Dr. Warwick said, "We're looking at the first mainstream thought experiments within a decade, and by 2030, mind-to-mind communications could become a commercial reality." By late 2030s, many future watchers believe that thought talking will become routine. Society will one day accept; some even prefer; this revolutionary method of communicating. Comments welcome.